“Californian ‘Start-’Em-Young’ System”: The Golden State and US Swimming, 1954–1964

in Sport History Review
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  • 1 The University of Rhode Island
  • | 2 California State University
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Each Olympics, the American swimming team is comprised of swimmers from universities and club teams from across the country. California has produced elite swimmers since the first Olympics where US swimmers won a medal (1904), and its clubs and teams developed into national and international swimming powers in the post-World War II rejuvenation of the Olympics. This article investigates the ways the California Age Group swimming program shaped the American swimming culture as it rose to prominence in global competitions in the 1950s and 1960s, identifying the aquatic enterprise as an early iteration of youth sport as a serious, commercialized, and commodified pastime. Additionally, we explore how California Age Group swimming served as a site for young girls (and boys) to be a part of the American nationalist project in the post-war pre-Title IX era, an era when there were otherwise few sporting opportunities for girls.

Hodler is with The University of Rhode Island, Kingston, RI, USA. Smith is with Louisiana State University, Sacramento, CA, USA.

Hodler (matthew_hodler@uri.edu) is corresponding author.